September 30, 2020

Cardiac care in the time of COVID-19

Skilled care and thorough infection-prevention protocols kept Eleanor Gorman safe when she needed heart surgery during the pandemic.

Eleanor Gorman, second from right, with her extended family. (This photo was taken prior to the coronavirus pandemic.)

For most people, a hospital is the last place they want to be during a pandemic. But for Eleanor Gorman, Kaiser Permanente became a safe haven during 4 months of care for a serious heart condition.

The 76-year-old was admitted to Kaiser Permanente Westside Medical Center in Oregon after passing out twice in her home. By the time she arrived, she showed signs of stroke and her condition was rapidly deteriorating. She was quickly transferred to the Center for Heart and Vascular Care at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center for treatment.

“She was diagnosed with Staphylococcus aureus — a potentially fatal staph infection,” said her daughter, Caroline Barron. “It went to her heart, kidney, liver, brain, fingertips, toes, shoulder — it went everywhere.”

When the infection spread to Gorman’s mitral valve, between the heart’s left atrium and ventricle, it created a multitude of complications, according to cardiac surgeon Thomas Lampros, MD. “The infection was destroying the leaflets of her mitral valve and going into the muscular system, affecting her electrical conduction,” he said. “She also had fragments of infection that had left the valve and lodged in her brain.”

Dr. Lampros performed a mitral valve replacement surgery — and saved Gorman’s life.

Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center has the only cardiac program in Oregon and Washington to earn the Society of Thoracic Surgeons’ highest rating for 3 common heart surgeries — including the mitral valve replacement procedure performed on Gorman. (Rating is based on performance for adult heart bypass, aortic, and mitral valve replacement surgeries and analysis of national data covering the period from January 2016 through December 2019.)

Precautions that protect

Despite knowing her mom would be in good hands, Barron admits she was nervous about bringing her mom to a hospital during the burgeoning COVID-19 pandemic. She and her family were quickly reassured by the precautions they saw in place.

“My mom was in the hospital for 4 months, and she made it through without getting COVID-19,” she said. None of Gorman’s family members contracted the virus either, even after weeks of hospital visits and potential exposure. “Every time we visited, we had to suit up in protective masks, headwear, and gloves,” said Barron.

That’s because Kaiser Permanente has instituted rigorous COVID-19 safety protocols for all facilities, including mandatory masks and screening for all visitors, staff, and patients, and limits on the number of visitors.

“She was tested numerous times during her stay,” said Barron. “We felt like she was safe and getting the best care she could.”

A heartwarming success story

Gorman is now home with her husband, and the only evidence of her ordeal is a walker she occasionally uses to get around. According to Barron, her mom doesn’t remember much about her time in the hospital, but she’s looking forward to thanking Dr. Lampros in person when COVID-19 subsides.

“Dr. Lampros made me promise him that our mom would walk down the hall of the hospital someday and give him a high-five,” said Barron. “He’s our family’s forever hero — we’ll never be able to thank him enough for saving our mom’s life.”